It's been a sweet year for "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro.
In March, the master baker of Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J., was the $10,000 grand-prize winner in the Food Network's "Battle of the Brides" wedding cake challenge. In November, he was asked to create a custom-designed rock star cake for Miley Cyrus' 17th birthday party in New York City and a food-inspired cake to help celebrate TV cooking-show host Rachael Ray's 500th episode.
He also created a cake that he personally presented to R&B star Rhianna at a Nov. 24 launch party for her latest album. The cake was made, at her request, of chocolate batter with chocolate mousse filling.
Valastro's late father would be proud of his accomplishments.
Not only has the fourth-generation baker kept his promise to his dad to make the family business a household name in his hometown, he has brought national attention to his family's bake shop through the hit TLC reality show "Cake Boss," which is in its second season.
Valastro's wedding and specialty cakes feature family recipes in flavors like vanilla cake with lemon French cream and fresh raspberries, red velvet cake with cream cheese icing, black and white cake with hazelnut cream and devil's food cake with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and fresh strawberries.
He plans to share some of his sugar art techniques and "demonstrate some fun desserts" in the Pittsburgh area Saturday at Giant Eagle Market District stores in Bethel Park and Robinson.
For Valastro, a typical week at the bakery includes orders for 20 to 40 wedding cakes and 300 to 600 birthday cakes. He supervises a staff that includes his mother, four older sisters and three brothers-in-law.
The biggest challenge in working so close to his family?
"Sometimes it gets personal, but we do our best to try to keep things separate -- business and personal," he says. "It's family, so you love them and you hate them. Sometimes, things get a little heated, but at the end of the day they are your family."
Valastro prides himself in that all of the shop's cakes, pastries and cookies are made from scratch, with no artificial flavorings or preservatives, and are freshly baked every morning.
Many of his designs are over-the-top elaborate, such as the wedding cake he made for a couple of vanilla sponge batter with chocolate fudge between the layers, sugar flowers and ivy vines and a Plexiglas bird cage with live doves inside.
Another wedding cake depicted a 4-foot-tall Leaning Tower of Pisa in pound cake and buttercream filling that required Valastro to construct an inner support system out of PVC pipe so the cake would lean, but not fall over.
One of the largest cakes he ever made was an entire cityscape of New York City featuring nine 5-foot-tall buildings including the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. It was designed for the Grucci family of New York, a fireworks company, and had to be wired to shoot fireworks when it was delivered.
"The Leaning Tower of Pisa cake was one of the most spectacular ones -- the amount of detail that went in to that cake was awe-inspiring," the baker says.
"We recently did a cake for NASCAR as a life-size race car, which took about four days to make. Without naming which ones they were, we've done some cakes (costing) upwards of $10,000."
Valastro says his imagination sometimes is limited by the consistency of the batter itself.
"A lot of times, the issue becomes what we can and can't do with cake. We had this one Mardi Gras cake that a client wanted and they wanted masks all made out of cake," he says. "Now chocolate we can do -- but cake, that's not possible, so that was a little frustrating."
And, there's always the potential for disaster in the delivery of an elaborate dessert created by Valastro and his staff.
"In terms of transporting, it's always a fun time hoping the cake gets there the same way it left the bakery," he says.
When it comes to creating a "dream cake" for a celebrity or other famous person, Valastro knows who he'd like to have as a client:
"I'd love to do a cake for the president. I don't even care which one. Just to say I did a cake for the president would be an awesome experience."